Sunday, 7 December 2014

Lovely London Things #7 Shops on Holloway Road

Despite its grittiness, Holloway Road has some of the loveliest shop names.....
The Hope Rooms
Moonlight Supermarket
Paradise Discount Store
Snow White Dry Cleaners
Salon Des Artistes
and the lovely......
Blood Brothers Ltd Tattoo Studio


A Book to Read When You're Back in The Game

Posted By Daisy
I WENT on a date the other night. Drinks at the National Portrait Gallery, nibbles in Wahaca, cocktails in a secret bar in Chinatown, and a tipsy smooch on Cecil Court cobbles, in front of a first edition Harry Potter and a signed copy of ‘Howl’, before running for the last tube.

It was nice to meet someone intelligent (he used ‘disabuse’ in the right context), gentlemanly (he took the uncomfortable corner seat at the bar) and non-conformist-but-reliable (he works in Westminster but has long hair, wears a green parka and is a guardian in an apartment block).

He’s not perfect, but then neither am I. We may or may not have a second date. But after a gap year from dating (once bitten, twice shy), it was a lovely way to begin again.
Leftovers by Stella Newman
At 36, Susie fills out one of those multiple-choice magazine quizzes and ends up being labelled a ‘Leftover’. She is newly-single, her jobs sucks and she often spends weekends trying in vain to catch up with her coupled-up friends.

Full of food descriptions (Susie’s always re-heating some homemade pasta sauce or Bolognese on weekday nights after work, and there are lovely recipes at the end of the book), Leftovers is well-written and funny, and ends in the opposite way to every chick-lit book I’ve ever read i.e. her happiness doesn’t equal the dream man, but something else entirely…

Just don’t be put off by the not-so-zingy front cover tag line:  ‘A novel about friendship, love and the power of pasta’.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A Book to Read in Little India

Posted By Daisy

The Punjabi station master with a big twisty moustache points me in the direction of the market. It's a right turn at the station and walk down past the Snowhite launderette, the Sikh temple, Madhan's Shopping Mall, the Bridal Emporium that's now a doughnut shop, Sira's Cash and Carry, and Dokal and Sons.

Described in Time Out as 'a cross between a traditional market and a visit to India', Southall market is actually more like 'Eastenders', with stalls selling phone chargers, nail varnish and cheap shirts. We finish there within thirty minutes - and spend the rest of the afternoon eating our way through the streets of Southall, stopping only to consider a jewelled sari (could be glamorous over a pair of leggings?), silver bangles for chubby babies, firecrackers, Happy Diwali cards, cut-price DVD's and gold statues in the shop windows.

At the Magic Corn stand, the vendor smiles as he ladles fresh, loose cob corn into a polystyrene cup, adds a dab of butter, lemon juice and sprinkle of salt and gives the whole thing a vigorous shake. After that we have sweet pink Kashmiri tea with spicy bits floating in it from a street-side urn, and then to Royal Sweets for a box of pink cakes that, when bitten, crumble like a just-dry sandcastle.
On the walk back to the station, we are welcomed into the Sikh Gurdwara (temple). Heads covered, we are given a gift of nuts in a bag and drink water from our cupped hands, and sit in a huge room with people in prayer. The temple members invite us to stay for a vegetarian curry next door, but we have to catch a train.

As the sun sets in Southall station, the train arrives- women wearing bulky coats over their saris disembark, and I head east again, with a box of sweet cakes banging against my shins, and a camera full of photographs.


Elevator Pitch: Following the death of her mother, a woman in her mid-twenties jacks in her job and marriage and sets off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone.

It’s a cross between ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ (without the schmaltz) and ‘The Way’ (2010 film about the Camino de Santiago).

It’s hard to know how Strayed (a name she chose for herself after her divorce) kept me reading about a long walk - for 311 pages - in tiny type. She keeps it interesting by deftly interspersing the description of the walk with the backstory of her life.

The film of the (Oprah-endorsed) book stars Reese Witherspoon  opens in cinemas in January 2015.
(*All amazing photographs by Paul Andrews (1-4), and by Christine (5 & 6) from

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A Book to Read When Looking at Old Photos

Posted By Daisy


FOR YEARS I’ve had an idea in my head for a book. Based on the story of three sisters growing up in 1920’s rural Ireland, it details their lives, loves and loses.
The ‘Life’s Funny’ exhibition by Kilkenny artist Catherine Barron reminded me of my book-in-waiting. The paintings tell the story of Barron’s family’s life. Using old photographs for inspiration, Barron paints 1950’s style scenes onto old sheet metal and dusty book covers.
Maiden aunts sit at the foot of a couch laughing, her teenage mother smokes a cigarette, her father smiles at his bride on their wedding day, the family pose for a photo on the beach, two little girls celebrate a First Communion, and an empty trike signals the death of her baby sister.
It's lump-in-the-throat sort of stuff, like wedding photo montages set to music that seem to eulogise the participants.
'Fuzzy memory'
Sandy sandwiches, everyone drinking out of the same bottle of TK Lemonade, getting sucked under the waves at Coumeenole beach, getting sick in the car on the way home, having crisps and red lemonade in the pub while my mum had a glass of Guinness - does every Irish person have the same beach memories?
'The first holy communion'
'Nana watches over us'
We have an almost replica of this picture at home, with my nana standing in her housecoat at the door of her house which opened out onto the street, minding my sister and I.

(Barron's parents)

'The Rose Tinting'
Barron writes 'I just thought the photos were so lovely. That perfect day,
not a cloud in the sky. My parents so young, so strong, so happy.'

'Venetian Blind'
Rachael English 'Going Back'

Elevator Pitch: When Elizabeth Kelly meets the man of her dreams on a J1 working holiday in Boston, her hitherto mapped-out life changes forever. But things change and life moves on, and when a crisis happens over twenty years later, Elizabeth returns to the city with ghosts of that golden summer around every corner.

I loved this book and read it for hours one afternoon, dying to finish it and find out how the story ends.

It reminded me of my own J1 summer spent cocktail waitressing in Ivar's Acres of Clams in Seattle where I wore a Seattle Mariners t-shirt and watched the seagulls swoop and steal chips from tourists on the boardwalk outside, and the boats heading across Puget Sound towards Bainbridge Island. Inside we urged customers to ‘Slam some Clam’ and served seafood chowder and cups of melted butter and lobster to tourists wearing huge paper bibs. Every day an elderly man whose wife had died a few years previously would come to eat off-menu at the restaurant – he even had his own button on the cash register - ‘Henry’s Lunch’.

Sharing a two-bedroom apartment with seven others is now my idea of hell, but it was de rigeur in 2001. We drank Seabreezes in the Mexican restaurant near our house, and felt sophisticated eating Pad Thai. We watched ads for a new series called ‘Scrubs’ on an ancient wooden CRT TV,  and listened to Norah Jones ‘Come Away with Me’. I sold root beer and cream soda on a beer cart for $10 an hour, and drank Mike's Hard Lemonade at a baseball game. I ate Marshmallow Fluff with a spoon from a jar, spent my tips in Nordstrom and Gap, and emailed home from the internet cafes that were everywhere.

I also ate too many giant cookies and grilled cheese sandwiches, and pounded down the aeroplane steps in Cork airport unable to do up the buttons on my jeans, into the arms of my shocked (but diplomatic) boyfriend...

Catherine Barron’s ‘Life’s Funny’ exhibition continues at Panter and Hall, Pall Mall until 31st October. 


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

A Book to Read When You're Feeling Restless

Posted By Daisy

LAST weekend was lovely. We went to an exhibition of First World War paintings at the Imperial War Museum and had drinks in a jazz cafe. We went for a tramp on a very autumny Hampstead Heath, huffing and puffing our way up to Parliament Hill. We had coffee and bought poetry books and browsed designer vintage shops in the village, and walked past Richard and Judy, and Will Self.

On Saturday night we had quails eggs dipped in celery salt, tangy green peppers, tortilla and Aperol Spritz's in Brixton Village.

But on Sunday morning, somewhere between washing and drying my hair I started to feel weird. Dissatisfied-weird.* Is it all just frippery, I wondered as I brushed out my hair. What's the point of all this activity? In the end, all I really want is to fall in love again. Does it really matter where I am? London is the same as anywhere if you have no partner in life. I may as well be at home. What's the point of it all? What's the MEANING of life?

And then I went to my Kundalini yoga class. Sitting crosslegged in the bright, sunlit room, I listened to the teacher.

'Close your eyes and think of someone last week who made you feel good,' she said. 'Breathe in ‘Thank’ and breathe out ‘You’.  

I thought of all the lovely things that had happened during that previous week and my heart beat a little slower, and my mind quieted slightly. The whole room breathed in and out.

'Don't take yourself too seriously. Don't listen to the negative voice in your head,' she continued.

'We all struggle with the same problems. Just focus on the important things which are health and family.'

And then with a smile in her voice, she told us to open our eyes and stand up- and made us dance around the room to this song...
And then this....
Who could possibly feel anxious after all that?

I re-read 'The Pilot's Wife' every few years but still love it. Anita Shreve's style and tone are perfect. She writes great stories, always with mentions of sea glass and lobsters, creamy wool blankets on a wraparound porch and glasses of chilled white wine.
Other lovely books to read to distract a whizzing mind are Roisin Meaney's 'Something in Common' (so weepy) and 'Some Girls Do' by Clodagh Murphy (I visited Highgate Cemetery just because the heroine in this book says it's a great place for a date.)

Or you could watch a rubbish movie, read the newspapers (to bring you outside of your own mind), ring your mum/sister/friend you feel comfortable moaning to, and remember, life is just peaks and troughs.

My mum says to 'Relax the Head', Helen Fielding says 'Keep Buggering On', my auntie says 'There's no point in crying into your soup, just get out there', and a very wise and resilient friend says:


*Mostly, (especially while walking along to my music in a crowded tube station, weirdly enough) I feel overwhelmed with contentment in London.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A Book to Read When You're Staying

Posted By Daisy


I USED to think London was High Street Kensington. Or Ealing. Or Regent's Street. Or Piccadilly Circus. 
Having lived and worked in West and North London for the past year, I see it more clearly now. It's not tapas bars or roof gardens or cocktails or walking tours. It's not markets or picnics in the park, Pimms, pancakes for breakfast, clothes shopping or novelty insect lollipops in Selfridges. It's not gated communal gardens or floppy-haired men in suits and pink trousers or walks along the river.

London is fried chicken shops and tracksuits and tower blocks on the way to Heathrow. It’s the man holding up the bus queue arguing over a day-old ticket that he can’t afford to replace. It’s the psychiatric patient sitting on the ground outside Nisa Local, holding a constantly lit cigarette between her long, elegant fingers, as if at a cocktail party.
It’s the Lebanese shopkeeper re-arranging his fruit and veg outside his shop who tells me he hates ginger but that his wife makes him eat it. It’s the café where a cup of tea costs 80p owned by a man who's glad that his three sons refuse to work there seven days a week. They’re too busy studying at university.
It’s the Columbian cleaner at work who could only smile and say ‘I’m fine thank you’ when she arrived, and who can now converse so well in English that she shows us phone photos of her teenage sons who she hopes will join her in London next year.

It’s the young men hanging around mid-morning, mid-week or the man cracking open a can of beer on the steps of the church at 9a.m.

It’s the well-dressed Asian girl screaming ‘F*%king bus driver’ as the bus drives past her stop.

It’s Earl, the Big Issue vendor outside my local tube station, his hands shaking with a Parkinson’s tremor.
It’s Seven Sisters Road with three pawn shops, lots of fried chicken shops, a Persian rug stall and a Bright House (one of the main markers of social deprivation in an area, according to the Guardian).
It’s my colleague having a phone whipped out of her hand mid-chat on the walk to work, or having to bring a hoodie to wear home after a night out to disguise her girlishness as she walks through her estate late at night, or my pregnant boss wearing non-descript clothes and a dark rucksack to deter muggers.

It’s the sign in Finsbury Park station looking for any information on an assault on a woman at 10:30pm on the tube, or the signs saying ‘Don’t Go Home With A Stranger’.
It’s the Indian post office owner shouting at an elderly Irish man as he stuffs his wad of pension money into his huge coat pocket and shuffles off, refusing any offers of help. And it’s the ferrety looking man following him down the side street.

It’s the magnificent beplumed horse and carriage outside a funeral home early on a Tuesday morning near Paradise Park, a park so far removed from paradise that I avoid it on dark winters evenings.

It’s the black cab driver bantering with the deli owner while ordering his usual baked potato and tuna and cheese.

It’s the North End Road market on a Saturday, where an exhausted mother rests her tartan shopping trolley on the street for a moment to smoke with her daughter. It's the high street at Peckham Rye littered with chicken bones and wefts of hair(‘tumbleweave’) from the myriad hairdressers, just around the corner from a bar built into the railway arches.
It’s the misspelt brothel name in Homerton, located beside a trendy café in a converted public toilet.

I feel lucky to have scratched the surface of this beautiful city. And that's why I'm staying for another year. I’m not ready to go home. There’s too much colour yet to see.
Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor.
Elevator Pitch: A murderer, a nobleman, a servant and a journalist (along with hundreds of other sick and poor Irish emigrants) board an Irish emigration ship bound for New York during the Great Irish Famine. This is the story of their past and present.
Star of the Sea (along with Wolf Hall, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Vernon God Little) is one of those books that has been following me around all my life, from house to house, without ever being read. I love Joseph O’Connor (Try the amazing ‘Flying Home For Christmas’ from Cara Magazine, Dec 2012; pg 108) but the front cover of the book just looked too unappealing. Until I had nothing to read one morning and grabbed it for the tube. And was hooked.
I passed it onto my sister who said ‘Urghh, I’ve tried it before and just couldn’t get into it.’ But after a day, she was asking me to bring her children out for a walk so she could nip upstairs for a quick read.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Books to Read When Baby, It's Cold Outside

Posted By Daisy

you are doing great
AT DINNERTIME yesterday, a little boy I know laughed so hard that milk came back up his feeding tube from his tummy, and overflowed out the top of the funnel. Everyone in the kitchen laughed with him, and for the next few minutes we sang the funny song ('Wild Thing') and cracked up as we watched his delighted gasps push the milk levels up again.
Despite the numerous curveballs that life has thrown at him, that boy never stops laughing. It was the loveliest moment of the day.


As an antidote to the recent grey days, and the dread of the next few wintery months - being spat out of packed, steamy tubes into the dark, rainy evenings for a shivery trudge home, wrapped in scarves and gloves and wet wool coats - I recommend the following books:

This book is for 'instant moral fibre' and there is a selection of poems for every eventuality e.g. Breakups, Don't Let The Bastards Get You Down, Love etc. When in doubt, read Wendy Cope or Dorothy Parker - they make misery funny.

'The Happiness Project' is a book-length-gee-up to remind yourself to 'Quit Slacking and Make Things Happen', and even provides practical tips on how to do so. I haven't picked up the book in a long time, but find Gretchen Rubin's daily happiness quotes and monthly newsletter fascinating.

And if all else fails, settle down and watch re-runs of 'Murder She Wrote' while eating freshly baked banana bread dripping in butter, accompanied by a large mug of tea and a tartan blanket. Works for me anyway.